What comes to mind when you hear the terms psy-cho-pathy or soci-o-pathy? Do you think murderer, lying, or manipulation? If so, you are correct. Psychoathy and sociopathy are different terms to describe a set of different characteristics and motivators of the individual displaying symptoms. Thankfully, most of society does not meet criteria for these disorders. However, about 1% of the general population displays symptoms and about 25% of the male jail population displays symptoms as well.
This month’s articles have focused on personality disorders and the symptoms and behaviors of those diagnosed with them. For those observing the behaviors of someone with a personality disorder, it can be extremely difficult to understand the origin of the behavior and why they occur on a repeated basis (despite consequences).
This article will highlight 10 signs of two of the most complicating and frightening disorders among us.
Having worked with (and are still coming across) a variety of individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for psychopathy and/or sociopathy, I decided to broach this topic this week. I must admit, this is never an easy subject for me, but it is indeed a very important one. If we don’t discuss these frightening topics, we’ll never understand the.
Thankfully research has always attempted to study the most recent theories on psychopathy and sociopathy. I truly believe these two personality disorders have not only interested millions of people for a long time, but has perplexed them as well. How could a human being, with a heart and mind, engage in callous assaults on innocent or unsuspecting people? Because it is difficult for society to understand why or find a logical reason for why, the topic gets swept under the rug or even over-intellectualized by some.
Recent research suggests that many individuals with psychopathic traits and patterns of behavior are found more so in prisons and jails than in the community, according to the Society of the Scientific Study of psychopathy. Sadly, these individuals aren’t always incarcerated and may still be found in certain parts of society such as in rural or urban areas. For sociopaths, their existence can be in the wider society and in certain occupations such as in politics, law and/or law enforcement, the military, and similar occupations. Because of their poor decision making abilities and lack of control, psychopaths often act on impulse or out of self-gratification. Their seeking to harm others may be motivated by the need to gratify a craving for power and control.
Below are a few examples, from research and my own experience, of “symptoms” often displayed by either psychopaths or sociopaths:
- Pathological lying (psychopathy/sociopathy): Back in 2014, I wrote an article on pathological liars while working in a juvenile delinquent facility. My experience was that many of the juveniles lacked not only remorse and empathy, but care, concern, and compassion for the well-being of others. It was as if these juveniles experienced a rush of energy, a sense of power, and a feeling of pure satisfaction while lying to either me (as their therapist), the psychiatrist on the team, a member of law enforcement, a Judge, or even a family member.
- Lack of empathy, emotional intelligence, or care (psychopathy/sociopathy): All of these “symptoms” often lead to the harming of innocent people through vandalism or burglary, assault, or other aggressive acts. You may also notice triangulation (the act of pulling more than 1 individual into a dilemma and creating confusion among all involved). Some individuals may also be diagnosed with other personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. It is also likely that the individual has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder.
- Poor or no attachment to others (psychopathy/sociopathy): Individuals who have absolutely no attachment to others are more likely to display lack of empathy, care, or concern for others. In extreme cases of repeated trauma and abuse, poor attachment can account for many of the antisocial behaviors of the individual. There are three possible components to this scenario which include: genes/biology, environment, and learning. Individuals who come for traumatic homes or environments are often also influenced by genes/biology, the environment around them, and behaviors or ways of thinking that they have learned from those in their environment.
- Charming, social intelligence, glib (sociopathy): You are more likely to cross paths with a sociopath in daily life than a psychopath. Psychopaths tend to be our more murderous or aggressive population, while sociopaths are more likely to have careers and display functional behaviors that make them come across as “normal.” Keep in mind that most sociopaths can blend in better with society than psychopaths.
- Conduct disorder and lack of respect for the rights of others (psychopathy/sociopathy): Conduct disorder is an adolescent form of sociopathy. You will notice behaviors such as fire-setting, killing or harming animals, impulsivity and inattention, gratification seeking, a need for high levels of arousal or dominance, and other socially unacceptable behaviors. In some of the cases I have treated in the past, primarily when starting out in my career years ago, were adolescents (and some children) who were engaging in sexually grooming behaviors toward their siblings and molestation. These youths were sociopathic and placed in residential treatment as a result of not being able to reside in the community safely.
- Successful, career-oriented, and possibly rich or well off (sociopathy): As you know, you could probably find a sociopath with a very good job, money, and maybe even fame. I think the one feature that has stood the test of time for years is the social charm often displayed by those with sociopathic traits. They can be so very charming (i.e., kind, humorous, giving but only for an ultimate purpose, intelligent, insightful, emotionally intelligent, and even appearing to be loving). The scary part about sociopaths is that not all sociopaths are destructive. In fact, some may display narcissistic behaviors but nothing more. Very tricky personality disorder to identify. The unfortunate part about it is that many people who show the above socially charming behaviors may not be sociopaths at all but are labeled that because of the people who fake their way through life. In other words, society becomes defensive and protective, causing themselves to think anyone who is socially charming must be a sociopath. Thankfully that is not 100% true.
- “Socially functional” (sociopathy): Individuals who have traits of a sociopathy are often able to survive in society and is socially astute. They know exactly what others expect of them and can produce those socially acceptable behaviors and thoughts to “survive” in society. They do not, however, internalize (or learn and grow from) this experience. In many cases, the sociopath becomes more skilled at evading, dominating, and manipulating society.
- Antisocial, violent, and “dysfunctional” in society (psychopathy): Psychopaths tend to be very antisocial and lack emotional and social intelligence. They tend to stick out more than the sociopath. Although the sociopath can be antisocial and dysfunctional in many ways, the psychopath is incapable of using emotional intelligence to “blend in.” In some cases, psychopaths are obvious just by the way they act, talk, or think.
- Propensity toward violence, rape, murder (psychopath): Jeffry Dahlmer is a prime example of a psychopath. He lacked empathy, emotional and social intelligence, emotional control, and attachment to others. His acts were heinous, unparalleled, and frightening to say the least. There as no turning back for Dahlmer. Whatever happened to his development overtime, would never be cured with therapy or even medication. The only resort for him would have been imprisonment. Sadly, a large portion of our population, who are imprisoned, share characteristics with Dahlmer. In many cases of psychopathy, imprisonment is the only way to protect society from these individuals.
- Severe personality dysfunction and need for arousal (psychopathy/sociopathy): History of fire-setting, animal cruelty, lack of remorse, anger management difficulties, substance abuse, poor or no attachment to others, malicious attitude or gestures, aggression, lack of awareness, manipulation, calculation, stealing or other forms of delinquency, craving for risk and adventure, sexual promiscuity (or rape and/or sexual abuse of others), and fearlessness are all signs of psychopathy and sociopathy. These symptoms, observed in children and adolescents, are a clear sign of impending doom. I have had the opportunity to work in a juvenile delinquency residential treatment facility, school and center and found that many of the teens placed on probation for socially unacceptable behaviors displayed the above behavioral problems at young ages.
What has been your experience with this topic? Do you know someone who has displayed any of the above characteristics or personality traits?
Communicating or being in a relationship with someone who displayed these behaviors can feel like a nightmare.
As always, looking forward to connecting with you.
I wish you well